Fast Company

Jobs Up in Smoke

Weyco Inc., a healthcare benefits administrator based in Okemos, Michigan, fired four employees for refusing to take a test that would determine whether they were smokers. The company had set a policy that took effect at the beginning of this year that barred smoking, even off hours. The company doesn't want to pay for the health costs of smoking, and it should know better than anyone just what those are.

My mind reels with the issues here. I've managed smokers before, and I used to joke that my company should put a phone and Internet kiosks outside to make up for lost productivity. And I'd be happy to debate just what companies should or shouldn't do to make up for the productivity losses that result from smoking.

But Weyco takes it to a whole other level. Wouldn't have it been a little less ham-fisted to say that we're a healthcare company and therefore we can't accept smokers because it's in conflict with our values? But if you are a smoker we'll subsidize an effort for you to quit? If Weyco does that, it may even be considered enlightened.

But I think it's a bit much for an employer to dictate my off-hours behavior as a condition of employment when the activity in question is legal. I realize that smoking could impact Weyco in terms of additional health costs down the road. Is there some compromise that could be reached here in terms of what a smoker would have to pay for in his or her health insurance until he or she kicked the habit?

What do you think? Is Weyco right? Is Weyco right in principle but wrong in the way it went about trying to achieve its goal? Or is Weyco a frightening example of our diminished civil liberties when it comes to accepting corporate employment?

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37 Comments

  • Pedro Garcia

    I really needed Chuck Suritz to tell me "smoking is elective, and eating is something everyone must do". Wow, lets only hope an idiot like Chuck Suritz is not teaching our children in our school system!

  • Keith

    To all you people who think this is a good idea:
    Do you actually think after they fire all of the smokers that they are actually going to lower your premiums ha ha ha ha. No way. Your premium will remain the same as it has always been. The only change you will ever see in your insurance premiums of the entire course of your life is an increase in premiums. If you actually think they are going to share the money that firing smokers supposedly generates, you need to have your head examined.

    I believe that this should be illegal. Cigarettes are bad there is no debate about that but then again so is drinking and a whole list of other things and among those caffine. What is the difference between a smoker and person addicted to coffee? One is more sociably accepted than the other. Workers spend time going to the coffee machine or starbucks and you don't here anything about that being a productivity loss or a health risk. Targeting someone who smokes is just plain wrong. If smoking were illegal then it would be a different story but it's not. It is product that is legal and has been compared to the addiction associated with heorin. What about people who have been smoking for 20 years? All of a sudden the rules have changed in the middle of the game and the older smokers will really suffer. Of course that could be a hidden agenda of this firing smoker policy. If you get rid of someone who is close to retirement because they could not quit, then guess what now you don't have to contribute any more money to there retirement or they will loose all of there retirement pay, unless of course it is a 401k plan in which case they will loose some money not all. What one does on there own time should not be affected by any corporation or company. This just shows how much we are all just slaves to some company. All of society is heading down this road and I don't like it one bit. It's all about work work work. Vacation and sick days are now combined into personal days and you get much fewer than before (unless your upper management). Now they are telling you that you can't smoke cigarettes in your spare time. If a company does not want you to smoke while at work that is totally understandable, but at home NO WAY. That means that you have let a corpration into your home and push you around in your OWN HOME.

    Finally my whole point can be summed up in this statement, What's it to you that I smoke? Huh? What? You got a problem with that so what. You don't live with me and it does not affect you in any way. I am tired of all of these "intrest groups" telling me what I should do with MY life. What is good and bad for me. Let's ban this because I just don't like it or let's add a huge registration surcharge to people who buy bigger or faster vehicles than necassary. This stuff is all happening because some morons can't balance a budget at the company, state, and federal levels so they have to find money in other areas. There is a word for that and it is called GREED. I guarantee you that maybe the CEO of that company doesn't smoke, but he sure as hell has a drink now and then. I hope they try to fire people for drinking to because at that point they will have bitten of more then they can chew and there will be hell to pay, and maybe just maybe we would be able to reverse this trend of companies and corprations pushing us around and causing so much stress that we need to see the doctor for a little miracle pill every 3 months, which coisendently enough is the real reason that premuims are so high. They drove up the prices by working you to the point where you need medical attention and prescriptions and now they don't like it and decided to find a scape goat in smokers. Round and round we go where it stops nobody knows!

    P.S. By firing someone for something like this you risk retatliation by that person either in the form of a lawyer or by much worse measures when that person takes the law into there own hands. What goes around comes around and sooner or later it will come around in this form.

  • gg

    1. For all those who favor Weyco with the insurance premiums argument, I say that - raise an employees insurance cost, and make the employee pay - but don't fire them. That will probably cause them to either leave or re-think smoking anyway. For this purpose, Weyco would be within rights to test for smoking - as long as the results are kept confidential.

    2. For all those who commented about second-hand smoke in the workplace, that only gives an employer right to ban smoking in the workplace - not outside it. Most companies providing a "smoking room" anyway. And companies would be within rights to fire anyone who insisted on passing on second-hand smoke to co-workers.

    3. For those who feel Weyco is doing society a favor by punishing smoking, I say:
    - A private corporation does not have this right.
    - Giving this right to private corporations is a "slippery slope" as so many others pointed out..

    That leaves one argument standing, namely:
    "A private corporation has a right to decide whom to hire and whom to fire - as long it is transparent about the "rules" and does not discriminate by factors like race or gender."

    For this, I have no counter-point.

  • Steph

    I will start off by making two statements. 1)I live in Michigan and 2)I am a Non-Smoker. I have read all of the messages posted above and have some comments that are open for thought.

    First, I commend David Boyd for his positive outlook on the situation and to his credit, all local reports on Michigan news agree with the advance notice given to employees. I also wanted to point out that I used to work for a company that had a policy about drinking outside of work. Basically, if you were charged with a DUI you could be fired. I did not have a company vehicle, nor did I have any reason to drive any vehicle owned by the company where they would need to insure me. How is that different? I will also point out the fact that the small disclosure statement (in very tiny print) that covered this topic was never discussed when I hired in and only came up because I actually took to the time to read the 60 pages of employee conduct that you have to sign off that you read every year. When I mentioned it to co-workers, not one of them knew that this was in the document. You may be wise to re-read what you have agreed to at your places of work.

    Also, Michigan is a very union/worker's rights state, therefore an employer usually does not fire anyone due to the large lawsuits that tend to always favor the employee over the employer. Even lazy bums who sleeps half of the day away will win thousands of dollars in lawsuits for wrongful termination in Michigan, it takes a LOT to get fired. Therefore, most companies do not fire anyone unless they are sure their reason has the full weight of the law behind it.

    To the comment above that "To Michigan, you are still part of the United States, for now. The constitution should still apply", I ask what does the 'for now' mean? Are you suggesting that Michigan be kicked out of the union because a privately owned company decided to change a policy? I guess that means that California and New York would go first, since they have banned smoking in public places and restaurants.

    I have a friend who worked for Phillip-Morris on the East coast. As you might imagine, smoking in their building isn't just allowed, it is encouraged (I shouldn't say "encouraged", but it is allowed everywhere in the building, even in cubes). Imagine going into a boardroom for a meeting and having an ashtray within reach of everyone in there? So I said, 'what if you aren't a smoker and you don't want to be in that environment?' Her reply: 'Everyone has a choice on where they want to work. If you don't want to be around it, don't work here.' Companies should be allowed to do the same for non-smoking.

    I can understand how some people feel that their rights are being eroded away, I really can, but I just happen to feel that our current government being able to check my last PAP smear to see if I'm a terrorist is a lot more scary than a company in central Michigan wanting to make it's employees more healthy, save some bucks on healthcare costs or what have you (because their reason behind it really doesn't matter). Why can't the ACLU tackle that one?

  • George

    Well, these are all very subversive opinions on the internet. I will have to monitor and filter my employees surfing behaviour now. Even in their homes. For their moral and mental well being, of course... But wait a minute, I could even make them do their grocery shopping at a company of my choice. Just heve them turn in the receipts. Why not? People are not a protected class after all...

  • Sandy

    To David Boyd; your comments sound so much like some kind of freaky, Big Brother horror novel I almost had to laugh. "Thank God for the wisdom and foresight of our leaders. They know what is best for us and without them I would run with scissors and shoot my eyes out with BB guns." Please! I'm a former smoker and since quitting have become even angrier than before about certain no smoking policies. No smoking in bars? No smoking even outside your workplace in your own home? My God! People are right! Ban junk food, alcohol, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, not wearing sun screen. These are all proven killers, eventually. We're going to die of something. A bus or a Big Mac, smoking or dementia. And loss of productivity in the work place? That's a joke. People spend way more time on personal phone calls, the Internet, and just plain screwing around than any of the smokers. In fact, the smokers rush back to work because they feel so guilty. This company is very, very , scary.

  • JB

    HELLO OUT THERE.....ARE WE REACHING? It's a sad and sorry state of affairs that we witness when confronted with the ever-more prevailing attitudes of FEAR which dictate to presumably somewhat-responsible and at least semi-sensible adults those things which are to be adhered to in order to comply with some corporate officers' committee recommendations pertaining to risk and cost analysis on such a subject as smoking. Such fears as are reflected by the actions of those in position to afford employment to employable individuals are well evidenced by such behavior as commensurate with a degree of integrity unbecoming anything desirable by either employee or consumer or stockholder.....ATTENTION H.R.: THE PUBLIC IS AWARE OF YOUR ACTIONS, WHICH ARE DEEMED TO BE AN INSULT TO THE INTELLIGENCE OF THOSE WHO, TO DATE, HAVE ESTEEMED YOU TO BE OF AN INTEGRITY WORTHY OF THEIR FAITH, AS SHOULD BE ATTRIBUTABLE TO ONES OCCUPYING THE SEAT YOU HOLD. IT SHOULD BE REMEMBERED: ONE MAY BE FIRED, BUT ALL ARE EXPENDABLE------INCLUDING YOU. WITHOUT YOUR INTEGRITY, WHICH YOU HAVE COMPROMISED OUT OF FEAR, WHAT WILL YOU HAVE LEFT? THINK OF THIS WHEN YOU ARISE IN THE MORNING TO LOOK AT THE FACE OF THE ONE WHO STARES BACK AT YOU FROM THE MIRROR... ASK YOURSELF---- WAS IT WORTH IT? WHAT, NOW, WILL YOU PERCEIVE AS THE NEXT JUSTIFIABLE FOCUS OF YOUR FEAR?

  • James Johnson

    Ok, so her is the slippery sloop argument. All employees who ingage in or are one of the following will be immediately fired so we may keep down our Healthcare costs.

    Smoking
    Drinking in excess
    Anyone who is obese
    Anyone whos DNA tests show Genetic disorders
    All those who engage in physical sports
    Anyone who drives to work
    Anyone being treated for Depression
    Anyone whos family has a History of Heart attacks, strokes, cancer of any type, etc etc.

    Ok good now whos left. 1 Guy who walks to work, eats only healthy food, does only yoga for exercise, and spends all of his free time reading.

    Oh bad news he died this morning, cause of death
    He died of boredom.

    Hey now think about this. We all live healthy lives don't take or eat anything which will harm us. We all get Healthier and need to see a doctor less often. The Doctors still need to maintain their lifestyles up to their expectations, so they simply up their fees. Result; healthcare costs stay the same.

  • Andi

    Yes, only in America. The one country that spends billions of dollars providing freedom and democracy for foreign countries and then allows our own freedoms to be trampled on.

    Get this - some smokers don't want to quit. An employer should make an effort to offer cessation programs, but it is not their right to fire someone just because they smoke, drink a beer every once in awhile, or have a craving for a Big Mac.

    To Michigan, you are still part of the United States, for now. The constitution should still apply. I hope that these employees get the best representation possible. I also don't buy the argument that they were warned of this policy. This policy should never have existed. There is already a smoking in the workplace ban on the books, and there should be. Smoker's must now go outside and therefore are not endangering the health of their coworkers.

    We are not who we work for.

  • Andy

    America. Only in America, could this happen. The land that gave the world the cigarette.
    Amazing!
    Love to take a camera to 'spy' on the execs of the company. Bet I'd catch one or two of them having a crafty smoke...

  • Stephen D. Hughes

    Rediculous!

    It seems Corporate America today will try anything
    to increase profits!. Its time for people to stop talking and start taking action! Contact the ACLU!

  • Jack Quinn

    After this bold move Weyco should really step up to bat against behavioral risks such as drinking alcohol, parachute jumping, sexual activities that may transmit diseases, SCUBA diving, growing old and other phenomena....that may cause a payout.

  • Sabrina

    I think it's great that Weyco and its management had the foresight to do this. There are way too many harmful diseases that arise from second hand smoke. Breathing is not voluntary and it is unfair others have to suffer - whether in the workplace or outside of it. My mom, a pure vegetarian and non smoker, is now suffering from a lung disorder that is directly due to second hand smoke. Seeing her suffer has convinced that any smoking should not be tolerated.

  • Humberto

    There was a war a while ago that people seem to want to forget. The reason one nation was powerful enough to take on the world is that it limited personal freedom first, then it limited the types of people, and it ran on fear. Fear of what would be taken next. It was better to just go along with the flow. Maybe you should google it to see how it turned out. In the mean time there was a poem written that really puts that type of behavior in perspective:

    First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

    Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

  • RayL

    To those of you who asked, when will the next shoe drop, it already has. Check out this story on "Reuters oddly enough" news thru yahoo. http://story.news.yahoo.com/ne...
    If their ideas of saving money means firing people who do legal things, then I would suppose that those of us who are over 50 years old must really be a costly burden to them. Guess our days are numbered with the GREAT DICTATOR of our behaviour. That is, after they get rid of the smokers and the overweight.

  • Deeli

    I hope these fired employees take this to the civil liberties union !!!! I plan on complaining to them !!!! Sounds like the beginning erosions of Nazi Germany to me !!!! I haven't been able to verify a Reuters article sent to me this morning but it states that Weyco is now going to go after their overweight employees .... Visit Weyco's site and view their employment policy .... It's scary !!!!

  • Barb

    Weyco has shown very poor judgement in management skills. I'm not a smoker but would not like to have anything to do with a company who makes such poor choices. In fact it would be a great justice to just drop them as your insurance company if they are yours. Hit this owner in the pocket book it is the only way these kinds of power hungry idiots understand and don't be afraid to let him know why you did drop them as a carrier. The flip side to that is he may just be so rich he won't care and the only ones truly hurt would be the employees who would then have to collect unemployment until they can find jobs with other companies.

  • David Boyd

    What most of you don't understand is that in Michigan, smokers are not a protected-class, unlike people who are obese, or gay. That means that smokers have no rights to protect them. It is NOT discriminatory! Weyco DID in fact give ALL employees nearly 1 1/2 years notice that this was going to happen, and they have paid for cessation classes, accupuncture, and even a hypnotist. They also have provided incentives for people to get healthier, such as subsidising health-club memberships and having a diet consultant meet with employees. And the call for the ACLU to step in might not come as soon as a lot of you think--if ever. I've seen multiple quotes from ACLU members saying they don't want to touch this one! Again, smokers are NOT a protected class in Michigan! There have been lawsuits in other states before against companies doing just waht Weyco has done and they have been tossed out because in whatever states they were in (29 states DO ahve laws protecting smokers) do not have laws protecting smokers.

    My wife works at this company, and tomorrow marks the 1-year anniversary since she stopped smoking. She comsiders it a blessing that they did this. I have just begun my "count-down" to my quit date so I can be healthier like she is--and for that I thank Weyco!!!

  • Todd

    I certainly hope that the taxpayer-funded ACLU steps in to put this company in its place. This action is not only simply immoral, it's discriminatory. Fighting this type of abuse is the sole purpose of the ACLU, and I'll be curious to see if the organization has the guts to step up to the plate to protect the rights of workers. Of course, I use that phrase knowing that "at-will" workers really don't have any employment rights. We can be terminated for any reason, or for no reason at all. Weyco would have served itself better by terminating the smoking employees without providing any explanation as to why. But then again, the company would also serve itself better by paying attention to its business instead of that of its employees. It's interesting that the excuse of "reducing health care costs" comes from a company that doesn't actually provide health care, or insurance policies, but merely makes money by functioning as an intermediary between employers and insurance providers. Maybe the public should demand that health care costs be reduced by eliminating the middlemen like Weyco.

  • gary

    Hello? Is anybody out there?

    Are we so convinced of our sense of what's possible that we as a society will increasingly resort to such managemnet "tactics"?

    Weyco is wrong on several fronts. They feel somehow compelled to advance such notions though it constitutes a lack of faith in the employer/employee relationship. Did the management of Weyco so strictly screen applicants for jobs in the manner they now seek to screen them post-employment?

    It's a fairness issue much more than one of anyone's civil liberties.

    Let's have some common management sense here.